The Hoppy Okapi

Occasional posts about hiking and other stuff

Yosemite Hike: Clouds Rest September 20, 2009

Yosemite Flashback #5: Clouds Rest, September 20, 2008:

Half Dome and beyond, from Clouds Rest summit

Half Dome and beyond, from Clouds Rest summit

Clouds Rest was the final long hike (and final overall hike!) of our Yosemite trip. Because our hiking guide claims that it is 14 miles rounds trip and over 3200 feet of elevation gain, I was really kind of dreading the hike, but the sheer joy of climbing the final ascent of Clouds Rest and the incredible views from the top, where it feels like you’re looking down on the whole world, made it all worthwhile.

Scenery near the beginning of Clouds Rest hike

Scenery near the beginning of Clouds Rest hike

This was another hike that started near Tuolumne Meadows, so we woke up early and left the lodge around 7am to arrive at the trailhead around 8:15. The trailhead was already crowded when we arrived, a mix of day-hikers getting an early Saturday start and people camping in the wilderness and even in the parking lot.

Scenery near the trailhead

Scenery near the trailhead

We started from the Sunrise trailhead, as our hiking book seemed to suggest a phantom “Tenaya Lake” trailhead that we were simply unable to find. We started our hike, with the initial sign promising us 7.1 miles to Clouds Rest, starting off in a pine forest as so many of these hikes do. We passed a mini-meadow, traipsed along a flat trail, then descended a little bit after about half a mile.

A pretty pond along the Clouds Rest Trail

A pretty pond along the Clouds Rest Trail

the other end of the alpine pond

the other end of the alpine pond

After some minor undulations, we began the first of two eeevil uphill sections that I had been dreading based on the trail profiles in our book – this ascent was shown as a mile and a half of steep climbing. It started out on a mild ascent, a sandy pine-covered trail climbing slowly onto a rockier ridge. After some climbing on the rocks, we soon came to…steps! I do really dislike steps on trails, but I was already in ultra-slow mode, prepared for the mile-and-a-half long slog I believed this to be. We made our way ever so slowly along the rocky trail, stairs intermingled with rocky inclines, upward and onward until finally the ascent started to lessen, rocks and stairs fading into another shady wooded trail. Right about then, when I had hope of reaching the top soon, the top of the ridge in sight, Chuck said that we still had almost half the climb to go, and I fell into despair at the thought. Alas it was a false panic, created by the ridiculous exaggeration of our hiking book, and we truly were only about a tenth of a mile short of the ridge.

Our first view of Clouds Rest from the trail

Our first view of Clouds Rest from the trail

We reached the junction at the top at 2.5 miles from the trailhead, instead of the 2.9 miles the book would have us believe, and took a break for a snack on top of the hill. Shortly after the junction, we descended steeply for about 300 feet of elevation – it wasn’t nearly as steep as the descent to the base of North Dome, but we could tell it would hurt a little on the way back! From there the trail had a few more undulations, past a peaceful looking pond (well below its high water mark so late in the season) and a few “creeklets” that actually did still have water; we then climbed steeply up again for a few minutes before settling into a more gentle slope for our final long ascent to the base of Clouds Rest.

Chuck and I at the beginning of the final ascent

Chuck and I at the beginning of the final ascent

As we passed the final trail junction, we noticed something peculiar – according to the trail signs, the distance to Clouds Rest from the trailhead kept increasing! First it was 7.1 miles, then 2.5 to the trailhead and 4.7 to the summit (for a total of 7.2 miles), then finally it was 5.3 miles to the trailhead and 2.5 to Clouds Rest – a total of 7.8 miles! Either someone is bad at math, or the Clouds Rest trail exists in some sort of space warp. That was both odd and somewhat discouraging, but we kept trekking onward.

Me climbing to the top of Clouds Rest

Me climbing to the top of Clouds Rest

Before too long, we got our first glimpse of Clouds Rest from the trail, and it certainly appeared to be close enough to inspire us to keep moving!

Chuck ascending to Clouds Rest summit

Chuck ascending to Clouds Rest summit

We rounded the ridge and started approaching the east shoulder of Clouds Rest, ascending up the rocky shoulder then dropping a little to the side until we came to a spot just below the summit trail, where some hikers waited for their companions to return from the top. From the summit trail sign location it was perfectly clear that reaching the summit would be ultra-fun, and much less scary than Half Dome.

Ascending Clouds Rest summit

Ascending Clouds Rest summit

The ascent stretched out before us, a series of ever higher granite pillows flattening each other as they led up to the top. We set off on the summit path gleefully, each slowly finding our path up the final ridge. For a while I stuck to a lower path on the right, but as I became more comfortable I started to walk along the highest part of the ridge. That was quite exhilarating, as the cliff edge seemed to fall away rapidly on either side.

View from top of CLouds Rest I

View from top of CLouds Rest I

I was still enjoying the top-of-the-world feeling as we reached the summit, where we again had amazing views of Half Dome (to our west this time) plus the Sierras and the previously unseen Merced River valley.

View from top of Clouds Rest II

View from top of Clouds Rest II

View from the top of CLouds Rest III

View from the top of Clouds Rest III

We fought off some bees as we ate our sandwiches at the summit, and enjoyed the windy views for a while before heading back down.

Me at the top of Clouds rest

Me at the top of Clouds Rest

Chuck at the top of Clouds Rest

Chuck at the top of Clouds Rest

As we descended, we passed a few more people making the trek out to Cloud’s Rest, and tried to give them encouragement to reach the top. (The summit, by the way, was only 6.1 miles from the trailhead according to our GPS, nearly a mile shorter then the most conservative sign claimed – bizarre!).

The pine-flanked trail on the way back...

The pine-flanked trail on the way back...

On our way down, I almost stepped on a chipmunk that Chuck spotted – it was upside down with hind legs sticking our of a hole on the trail, then it suddenly broke free and darted right past me to hide in a tree.

Gooey sap on tree trunk

Gooey sap on tree trunk

We made sure to stop for lots of pictures of the high sierra scenery on the return trip – topping out at over 9900 feet, this was our highest hike by about 500 feet over Lembert Dome.

High-Sierra scenery

High-Sierra scenery

We fortified ourselves with some beef jerky before the big ascent back to the trail junctions, and only stopped to let descending hikers pass as we trudged up our last big hill.

an alpine meadow

an alpine meadow

Moments later on the perilous (to my ankles) mile-long descent, I was actually surprised that I made it up that ascent with so few stops along the way. Certainly descending was faster than the steep climb up, but picking our way safely through the rocky switchbacks was still tiring going downhill.

A few wildflowers still blooming in the meadow

A few wildflowers still blooming in the meadow

Once we reached the bottom, we had only a few minor undulations and a tricky trail junction (I almost went the wrong way! GPS to the rescue) left, and we found our was back to the car triumphantly, happy with the twelve mile trek and our cloudless trip to Clouds Rest.

Rocky terrain and bendy trees

Rocky terrain and bendy trees

 

Yosemite Hike: Half Dome December 10, 2008

Filed under: hiking,outdoors,vacation — Amanda @ 8:31
Tags: , , , ,

Yosemite flashback #2: Half Dome, September 16, 2008

Having packed our bags and made our sandwiches the night before, we woke up at 5am on Tuesday to get ready for our trek up Half Dome. We drove over to the trailhead parking area and left the car just before six. It was dark enough that we had to backtrack and walk along the road to the trailhead, as the narrow path through the woods was obscured. There were around two dozen people starting out at the same time, including a big group of about twelve people. We made a quick stop at the Happy Isles trailhead, then started up the paved path to Vernal Falls. The darkness was fading into shady morning light as we climbed that first mile, the sometimes-steep 430 foot climb a good warmup for the trail ahead.

Vernal Falls, almost dry in mid-september

Vernal Falls, almost dry in mid-september

Unlike Yosemite Falls, which was entirely dry, Vernal Falls still held a trickle of water in mid-September. While that made for less spectacular pictures, I was quite happy with the lack of water on the stairs leading toward the top of the falls. Our guide book claims that there are about 300 steps on the trail from the bridge to the top, but it felt like a lot more as I was climbing them. I went at a slow-but-steady pace, counting out 40 or 100 footsteps before pausing for a rest. The steps are only about 0.6 miles, but they were steep! Still, I was fairly well energized and felt triumphant when I reached the top.

Top o the Falls (Vernal, that is)

Top o the Falls (Vernal, that is)

We paused for a bit of GORP before heading up the trail to Nevada Falls. Although it’s a higher climb and longer than from Vernal Bridge to the top of those falls, the path to Nevada Falls was made more palatable by friendlier switchbacks, sometimes with granite stones providing a ramp with some traction but rarely resorting to the cursed stairs of Vernal Falls.

Approaching Nevada Falls

Approaching Nevada Falls

After a quick break for beef jerky and pictures of the falls, we headed onward to Little Yosemite Valley, a relatively flat mile or so of trail that was a welcome respite from the endless climbing. Just before we got to the valley floor, we saw three mule deer – one watching us for any sudden moves, another eating away without a care, and the third hiding behind a fallen tree, poking it’s head up to watch us every few seconds.

Doe, a deer, a female deer...

Deer in Little Yosemite Valley

After a mile of mostly flat sandy trail, we began ascending again, relatively gradually through a shady pine forest with pine needles and acorns and pine cones strewn along the trail.

Half Dome from the trail

the back of Half Dome from the trail

After climbing for a while, we reached a sign – Half Dome: 2.0 miles – hooray! From there, we continued climbing through the pines, the trees gradually thinning as we got higher. We stopped for a sunscreen break at the edge of a cliff, where we could look out toward Clouds Rest and other cliffs along the northern edge of the valley.

Half Dome, getting closer!

Half Dome, getting closer!

After a few more minutes of ascending, the walk getting tougher from the high elevation, the granite steps up the shoulder of Half Dome started without much warning. Incredibly steep, and in a seemingly endless series of short switchbacks, these made for a touch climb and I stopped for a break about every twenty steps. After finally reaching the end of the stairs, we had to find our own way up to the top of the shoulder, as the trail all but disappears on the final ascent. On the top, we found a sort of staging area, where people took breaks before the final summit push, and gathered their courage or waited for others who pushed on.

Half Dome - the cables

Half Dome - the cables

After a five minute break to gather up some energy and decide whether to go forward, we made our way across the gap to the true base of the climb. After an initial bout of apprehensiveness I decided to try the cables, but there were ominous clouds gathering and the wind was growing. Not wanting to be caught on the summit in the rain (or lightning!), we waited for most of the clouds to pass, then started to ascend.

The beginning for the climb

the beginning of the climb

I soon discovered that the cables were even scarier than they looked; incredibly steep and with granite worn smooth by thousands of hikers, there was very little traction. After three or so pushes upward, I decided there was too much scary ascent (and an even more terrifying descent) ahead, and decided to turn back. Chuck went onward for a few minutes, but then began getting cramps in his forearms and was unable to grip the cables well, so he headed down without reaching the summit as well.

getting stormy...

ominous clouds...

the sunny side of the valley

the sunny side of the valley

and the stormy side

the stormy side of the valley

We climbed back up to the top of the shoulder to eat part of our lunch, but the wind was picking up and we decided to get down to safer ground in case it started raining. As we made our way carefully but quickly down the wind got worse, forming twisters here and there along our descent, picking up dust and debris and sending it flying into our faces. We took a break again once we had safely descended, thinking that the people who were just starting up the slope in the wind and intermittent raindrops were a little bit crazy.

from below the treeline, looking back at the trail

from below the treeline, looking back at the trail

view to the north

view to the north

We traipsed back down through the pine forest and into the valley, noticing that the river looked quite inviting – it seems like Little Yosemite Valley would be a fun place ot backpack and stay for a night or two, relaxing in the river and maybe trying the crazy Half Dome hike again. In any case, we were soon ascending out of the valley, and then descended back to the Nevada Falls trail junction.

This time, we took the John Muir trail to the edge of the Falls, where a bridge crosses over just above the spot where the falls begin.

Top of Nevada Falls, John Muir trail

Top of Nevada Falls, John Muir trail

it looks like a peacefull stream in mid-september

above the falls, a peaceful stream in mid-september

Presumably the whole area is wet with spray and the pools above the falls are churning violently in the spring, but at this time of year the falls were fairly docile and people were swimming in the pools above the falls and playing on the rocks just below the bridge, making a mockery of the signs imploring you not to do either of those things.

beginning of Nevada Falls

beginning of Nevada Falls

looking at the edge of the falls

looking at the edge of the falls

This too seems like a fun destination for a hike of its own, and it was a good resting point before the final descent of our hike.

view of the valley

view of the valley

From the falls, we had almost four miles to go; the first three were semi-shady switchbacks along the Muir trail, first along more exposed ridges and then through a forest as we got closer to the Vernal Falls bridge. This part of the trail was mostly uneventful, except for passing an ultra-noisy school group and a small group on horseback. I was quite happy to be back at the Vernal Falls bridge, about nine hours after we first passed through. I filled up a bottle of water, having drunk my last bit on the descent to the bridge, and we set off again, only one more mile to go!

It was funny on the way down, passing all the people whose only destination that day was the bridge, and knowing what we were coming back from. we also passed a lot of people who were also heading back down – we were moving faster just because we were so much more eager to be done hiking for the day! With a longing glance at the now-open snack shack at the trailhead we slogged the quarter-mile back to our car, and collapsed there with relief. It took us just about 9 and a half hours for the trip, and we took breaks for probably 45 minutes or an hour of that, so it was about eight and a half hours of hiking for the day.

 

Yosemite Hike: Lembert Dome, Dog Dome, and Dog Lake November 27, 2008

What better time than Thanksgiving to start catching up on my long-neglected Yosemite posts! I can’t believe our trip was only two months ago, it feels like so much longer!

On the first official hike of our Yosemite trip, we headed to the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park – a long, slow drive out of the valley to the north and to higher ground. It was the day before our planned trek to Half Dome, so we figured that this hike, which mostly took place at elevation higher than the top of Half Dome, would be a good warm-up.

Pandora is ready for the hike!

Pandora is ready for the hike!

We started just after 9am in cool, crisp mountain air. (My car thermometer claimed it was less than 50 degrees, but I didn’t quite believe it was THAT cold!) The steepest climb of the hike was at the beginning – we spent the first 0.7 miles trudging slooowly up forested switchbacks, breathing heavily as we ascened in the thinner air. It was good to start out at a slow pace – I think it helped us acclimate to the elevation by not over-exerting.

Chuck takes in the view
Chuck takes in the view

After the junction at .7 miles, we turned off toward the domes; the trees started thinning out as we bassed the broad back of Dog Dome, and we soon came to the saddle between the two.

the back of Dog Dome from the trail

the back of Dog Dome from the trail

The path to Dog Dome from the saddle was closed, so we tackled Lembert Dome, the higher of the two, first. There was a trail heading off around the Dome, but we decided to try the more direct ascent, which involved a little bit of scrambling up the Dome and a lot of rocky fun.

the start of our path up Lembert Dome

the start of our path up Lembert Dome

Lembert Dome

Nearing the top: Lembert Dome

We found a pretty good path to the top – there was only one spot where Chuck had to help pull me up – and celebrated our ascent with lots of pictures and some beef jerky.

A View from Lembert Dome

A View from Lembert Dome

Chuck at the top of Lembert Dome

Chuck at the top of Lembert Dome

Pandora Enjoys the View

Pandora Enjoys the View

Me with Pandora on Lembert Dome

Me with Pandora on Lembert Dome

After a few minutes, we headed back down, taking a more indirect (but easier) line back.

We found an accesible path to Dog Dome on the way back to the saddle, and were able to walk right up its far gentler slope, no scrambling required.

A tree grows on Dog Dome

A tree grows on Dog Dome

These cairns lead to nowhere!

These cairns lead to nowhere!

The ridge leading to Lembert Dome, from Dog Dome

The ridge leading to Lembert Dome, from Dog Dome

Fun Rock Lines on Dog Dome

Fun Rock Lines on Dog Dome

We got some more good pictures (yay, pictures of rocks!), then headed back down the trail to start the easier stretch of our hike. At the junction again, we headed off toward Dog Lake, uphill a little more and then down again. We passed a shallow pond along the way, right at the base of Dog Dome.

If a tree falls in the woods...

If a tree falls in the woods...

I like pictures of bark!

I like pictures of bark!

After a leisurely half-mile through the forest, we came onto the shore of the lake, where we dipped our hands in (it was chilly!) and got some more pictures before heading back.

Dog Lake...starts getting colder in September...

Dog Lake...starts getting colder in September...

img_0734

Pandora decides not to go for a swim!

Pandora decides not to go for a swim!

Lembert Dome, Dog Dome, and Dog Lake, Yosemite National Park
September 15, 2008
Hike Stats:4.38 miles, 1153 feet elevation gain

 

Yosemite Week Preview September 23, 2008

Filed under: hiking,outdoors,vacation — Amanda @ 20:21
Tags: , , ,

I spent the past week blissfully disconnected from the internet and other trappings of regular life. Chuck and I went to Yosemite, spending a wonderful week hiking, attending nightly park programs, and watching squirrels, deer, bats and birds (but no bears). As soon as I can sort through the pictures, I’ll have more details on the wonders of Yosemite (AND the fun places we found to stop by in Fresno while we were passing through!).

More details on most of our hikes to follow, but here’s a summary of the trip – about 55 miles and 11, 000 feet of elevation gain! With a week like that behind me, I feel even more motivated to become immersed in my Inca Trail guide book and start planning to visit Peru!

Sunday: walking along the valley floor, (dry) Yosemite Falls and the campgrounds, about 3 miles, negligible elevation gain.

Monday: Lembert Dome and Dog Dome, Tuolumne Meadows Area, 4.4 miles, 1153 feet elevation gain.

Tuesday: Half Dome, 15.7 miles, 4800 feet elevation gain.

Wednesday: walking along the valley floor to El Capitan and Cathedral Beach, about 6 miles, about 200 feet elevation gain.

Thursday: North Dome, 9 miles, about 1800 feet elevation gain.

Friday: Sentinal Dome and Taft Point, Glacier Point Road, about 5 miles, about 950 feet elevation gain (according to our crazy hiking book – this estimate might be a little high!).

Saturday: Clouds Rest, 12.2 miles, 2673 feet elevation gain.

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 3 July 29, 2008

One of the themes of summer vacation in Pennsylvania was taking Chuck to all of the places of my youth, so after we dropped DJ and Adam off at the airport in State College, we headed to Black Moshannon State Park. When I was young we went to family picnics in Black Moshannon every summer, and it was always fun, except for the year when DJ and I stumbled into a swarm of bees while we were walking along the marsh. That was decidedly un-fun, although we did get to break open little bee sting capsules and apply them to our myriad stings.

We got to the park around 9 in the morning, before the Monday morning crowd shuffled in, and walked around a little bit before setting off on our hike.

We set off along the road toward the Bog Trail, taking advantage of the dramatic sky to get some fun pictures.


We passed some canoes along the way:

We saw a snake in the water:

And were attacked by a caterpillar:

On the Bog Boardwalk, Chuck interpreted the nature signs for us:

And we saw moss, lillies, and zillions of lilypads:

And then we walked back to the main park area through the woods, and we were attacked by zillions of flies, and also saw some mushrooms:

And then Chuck posed with the park sign:

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part One July 13, 2008

On the first day of our summer vacation in Pennsylvania, we took advantage of our flight into Pittsburgh by visiting Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. Before we got to Fallingwater though, we had to drive through Pittsburgh, and driving through Pittsburgh means driving through tunnels…and driving through tunnels means holding your breath! I, as the official trip photographer was exempt from this requirement (ok, really I was just laughing so hard at everyone else making eye-bulging faces that I only lasted about 10 seconds). Chuck, DJ, and Adam were all successful though – apparently nose-holding is the key:

(I don’t even remember WHY it’s a tradition to hold our breath through the tunnels, only that it is, and we try it every time)

So onto Fallingwater, where they have a very complicated tour group system (make a reservation, check in, receive buzzer; when summoned, receive group number; when group is called, hike a quarter mile through the woods to meet tour guide at the house), but somehow the whole thing works and our tour group of about 12 managed to meet up at the right time.

My favorite thing to do when visiting famous buildings is to try to image that I’m the one living there, and I would be fairly happy to take up residence at Fallingwater (the caveat being the low ceilings, and the cramped bedrooms! I guess I’m 21st Century urban-loft spoiled, but I like my ceilings high!). The house has an incredible number of details to revel in, like stairs that descend from the living room into the stream below, a wading pool on the lower level to complement the larger swimming pool near the guest house, boulders left in place to serve as walls, and spots where the house is built around trees.

On our way home from Fallingwater, we made a quick stop at another Pennsylvania icon, a covered bridge:

 

Brewpubs away from Home – Volume 2 July 7, 2008

Filed under: beer,restaurants — Amanda @ 21:22
Tags: , , , , ,

I just got back from my Summer Vacation week in Pennsylvania – first stop, the Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville. There are three Rivertowne locations just east of Pittsburgh, so I chose Monroeville because it’s the site of the brewery. Having arrived on the red-eye from San Diego (by way of Boston), we arrived at the brewpub a few minutes before opening, giving me ample opportunity to appreciate the rotating messages on the sign:

Mmmmm, 19 handcrafted beers…since it was only about 11am when we arrived, there were only a handful of people at the restaurant, and our waitress was super friendly and sent the brewer over to chat with us. He mentioned that the pub’s first anniversary had just passed, and expressed his passion for brewing creative beers. So…19 beers, how to choose? I spent many minutes pondering the possibilities. The beers were listed on cute illustrated chalkboards:

Our waitress explained that there were two different seven-brew samplers offered, one of them featuring the stronger ales on the draught list, and I knew that destiny was calling me. With the sampler, I received tastes of: The Regulator Plum Ale, Highland Heather Scotch Ale, Spring Maibock, White Lightning, Sommer’s Espresso Stout, Old Wylie’s IPA, and Nobleman. I also got to taste Last Chance Vienna Lager, Shepard’s Crook Scottish Ale, Wicked West Coast Stout, and Perfectly Pomegranate – eleven beers tasted out of a possible 19 – not too bad for a Saturday morning!

So how did they measure up? I was actually surprised by some of my top picks! Breaking away from my traditional loves, I was quite smitten by some of the original flavors Rivertowne had to offer.

Nobleman – A German Alt Bier, with clean fresh hoppy flavor and a good level of bitterness, it struck me as an IPA-lite, in the best possible way – not overly thick or cloyingly bitter, this was refreshing and flavorful.

White Lightning – A spiced Belgium White, White Lightning also had a clean, fresh finish. This was a well-balanced beer – mildly fruity/flowery from the orange and grains of paradise, with just a hint of spiciness to tease the palate but not overwhelm.

Espresso Stout – Sweet and strong, with great coffee flavor, one of the best coffee beers I’ve ever tried.

Perfectly Pomegranate – Fruit beers are hard to get exactly right, but this is one of the exceptional ones – fruity and smooth, refreshing but not too sweet, this is a perfect summer beer.

The Plum Ale (a little bit of knock-you-over-the-head plum fun) and the IPA are also worth a shout out, though not quite as exceptional as the rest. Everything was actually quite pleasant and drinkable; the only one I probably wouldn’t drink again is the Lager – a fine example of its style, but not one of my favorite things. Also worth noting – the Pacino sandwich with homemade chips – yummy! Overall, Rivertowne was really great, and I’m happy that it was our first brewery visit of the trip.

 

 
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